1977 Dodge Pickup: Built On A Budget

This '77 1/2-Ton Makes 600 HP, Gets 20 MPG and Cost Less Than $15,000 to Build

Jason Sands
Feb 1, 2011
Photographers: David Kennedy
This cool little Dodge shortbed is a perfect example of what those on a limited budget can accomplish if they perform most of the work themselves. When talking with owner Josh Hewitt, we were told he performed about 98 percent of the work himself, with some help from his buddies along the way. The fact that his father owns Hewitt's Body Shop in Lafayette, Tennessee, meant Josh could keep paint and bodywork costs down and build a nice looking truck-rather than a cobbled-together rig.
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Built With Talent, Not Cash
Once people find out it's a diesel, Josh says their first question is usually, "What year is it?" Well, Josh was in the middle of restoring a '77 Dodge when the gas motor in it blew up. Rather than ditch all his efforts to make the body nice, he bought a '91 Dodge D250 with a Cummins engine and swapped all the older sheetmetal on the newer truck. The swap wasn't exactly a straightforward affair, as most of the truck had to be massaged a little here and there to get everything to fit right. Josh estimates he has 18 hours wrapped up in the front grille and core support alone. With the help of his friends Josh Kittrell and Cody Gregory, the '91 was chopped into a shortbed by taking 19 inches out of the frame. The rear suspension was built using ladder bars and Firestone air springs. The front suspension had two coils cut out of the springs to lower the truck enough to match the custom rear setup.
Photo 3/11   |   The heart of the little shortbed is a 5.9L Cummins engine that has been modified with a set of turbos and a whiff of nitrous oxide. Good for about 600 hp at the rear wheels, the truck still remains completely driveable and gets great fuel economy because of its light weight.
Compound-Turbo 12-Valve
Since most of Josh's work had been labor rather than parts, he had plenty of money leftover to go nuts on the engine. Still, almost every performance part on the truck is used and came from other racing, pulling, or street trucks. After fooling around a bit with the stock '91 engine with the VE injection pump, Josh decided he needed to go big, so he bought a 215hp engine out of a wrecked '97 Dodge. A solid foundation for the 5.9L Cummins 12-valve engine was formed with an O-ringed head and 12mm H-11 head studs from Haisley machine. The 215hp P7100 pump received a set of 4,000-rpm governor springs, full-cut delivery valves, and a #0 fuel plate. The pump was set at 19 degrees of timing and sends its fuel through stock lines to JL Machine 5x0.018-inch-tip injectors. Air induction comes in the form of an ultra-quick-spooling 64/65/13 turbo from High Tech Turbo, and a 74mm HT3B. Josh doesn't know what his total boost is, because it pegs the 60-psi gauge, but he reported that his turbo combination works extremely well. A 5-inch downpipe was fabricated for the exhaust, which required floorboard modifications to clear the body.
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3/4-Ton Drivetrain
It was obvious the stock transmission wasn't going to keep up with the modified engine, so Josh sourced a 47RH out of a '95 Dodge and had it rebuilt with the help of a friend. The transmission is fairly basic, with an unknown billet torque converter (which Josh bought used for $600), a BD flexplate and valvebody, and a billet accumulator valve and kickdown lever from Sun Coast Converters. After the transmission, power is sent back to a Dana 70 rearend that has a stock limited-slip unit and 3.55 gears. Josh also installed a rear disc brake conversion from EGR Performance Brakes.
Photo 5/11   |   Don't be fooled by the lowered, show truck looks of this Dodge-it's fast, too! At the track the street tires give way to these Hoosier drag slicks.
No Dyno Required
Although it's never been on a dyno, based on track times (11.41 seconds at 123 mph), we'd estimate Josh's rig puts down a good 600 hp to the rear wheels. Although that run was with slicks and a small shot (0.052 jet) of nitrous, Josh says the Dodge is still plenty fast on fuel only and street tires. In fact, thanks to the truck's 4,500-pound weight, Josh said he regularly achieves more than 20 mpg. Best of all, due to a bit of know-how on his part (and the help of some friends), Josh was able to assemble this sweet ride for less than $15,000. Now if that isn't getting your money's worth, we don't know what is.

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